What is the difference between managing for daily improvements and administrating things taking their course?

We say: Discipline and rules play an important role and should be one element of the leadership skills repertoire together with objectives setting, listening skills, feedback, delegation, responsibility etc.

The good news is: Discipline can be un-annoying and easy-going. As long as the rules are clear and make sense.

Hey, it’s simple – there are only 2 types of rules:

  1. Rules you must follow.
  2. Rules you choose to follow.

Oops, and here is the problem: People usually can’t distinguish. They decide differently which rule to follow and which not.

What are the rules that are followed in your company?

  • All safety instructions, even if they don’t all seem to make sense?
  • All cleaning routines for shift handovers described in detail? All Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)?
  • How about the punctuality rules in meetings (and all the other rules posted on the walls of meeting rooms)?

Using common sense and being well informed, generally leads to good outcomes. Sometimes even better results than following all (probably stupid) rules.

Example: In a manufacturing site it was only allowed for mechanics to adjust machine settings. One day the machine stops during night shift and the next mechanic is due to arrive in six hours. So, a well-trained operator takes responsibility, fixes the problem and the line runs successfully throughout the shift. Great.

But, was that a good decision?

From a direct company perspective sure it was. At least a good example why good employees should act against rules.

The problem is that the team won’t get better from this (and maybe next time a different operator is by chance not as successful).

Would the machine have stood still for 6 hours, however, good leadership had concluded that a substantial change is needed (e.g. training and empowering operators or bringing in mechanics in the night shift).

Standard Work is doomed from the get-go if rules are open for interpretation and follow-up discipline is treated voluntary at best. And of course: For those who don’t follow the current rules, do you really expect them to follow new rules?

For standard work and systematic improvement it is essential to follow established rules – and quickly generate new ones as soon as a better rule is proven. Otherwise everybody (hopefully) tries harder staying at the level of trying. It’s a simple change of common behavior. Simple? No, it actually is a culture change not happening from one day to the next.

We call following reasonable rules good discipline. That doesn’t mean that you need a rule for everything. As a good leader I decide where my people must or don’t need to follow a specific rule. That’s the basis for continuous improvement, for standard work, for quality and value stream efficiency.      

Conclusion: It is a key responsibility of a leader to make sure that only those rules exist that need to be followed. Rules that are optional either need to be officially buried or converted to musts. The “Must-Rules” of course need to be lived and managers need to 100% fulfill them leading by example.

Our next blog is about how to implement rules and discipline. Please stay tuned.

Maybe also interesting for you: Our Input and Exchange Event on Shopfloor Management www.oconsulting.com/events/


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